When a smartass magical creature invades Kathleen’s life, a boy she hates turns up dead and her mother goes missing. Then a letter she wrote for an old friend becomes a key piece of police evidence—implicating Kathleen. As she fights her way out of a web of lies, the trust she has in those closest to her shatters. In the end, she’s pushed to a terrible choice: who lives, and who else dies.
My mom’s a liar.
What parents aren’t, right? They tell their kids lies about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Even the Boogeyman who crouches in the shadows beneath beds has his legend whispered into the ears of young green bean-haters.
I wished my mom would use her power of deception for good. For one, I wouldn’t have to chase down people in the dark, braving the muggers and would-be rapists who lurk in the bushes on my street.
If she’d told the boy who came knocking I was upstairs in my room, then we could have had a quick—though unlikely civil—conversation on the front porch. Instead, she told him I was out with another boy.
And she didn’t just tell this to anyone. No, of course not. She told this to Josh Colby.
It was the equivalent of having some celebrity knock on your door after their car broke down. Except, as far as celebrities go, Josh’s status didn’t reach beyond the doors of our high school. We’d known each other for the many years of our educational careers, and mostly succeeded with our mutual effort to avoid speaking to one another.
Mocking doesn’t count.
I was too lazy to run for more than a block. To scream seemed an easier solution. When a male voice called back, I smiled at my small victory of intelligence over physical prowess.
He sounded close, within a block or so, but I couldn’t see him. The sliver of moon lacked radiance as it was smothered by dark clouds, but the streetlights were enough to confirm there was no silhouette of him on the sidewalk. He must have cut through a neighbor’s yard to head back to his house on the next street over.
“What did you want?” I winced at the sudden, sharp brilliance of lightning. Spots did flip-flops against the stretched shadows on the grass as my vision tried to recover. The scent of ozone carried on the cool breeze blended with that of a fresh cut lawn.
“That you, Elchubba?”
Elchubba is not my name. Not even close. Not that many of the kids at my school cared, and several might even be shocked to discover my real name was Kathleen. Not Kathy. Definitely not Elchubba. To my eternal frustration, I won that clever little nickname in junior high. Mostly because Ryan Dixon is a jerk, but also because I was horizontally challenged and usually clad in black from hair strand-to-toenail polish. It’s to do with Elvira. Lame, I know.
I just hoped Josh hadn’t asked my mother if Elchubba was home. I wouldn’t put it past him. Instead of correcting him, I turned on my heel and headed home. I didn’t answer him on principle.
My house was still a sadistic distance from me when I heard Josh stumble through some bushes near the sidewalk behind me. Oh, heavy black boots, how you’ve failed me again.
He mumbled a curse behind me after the distinct sound of his rubber soles tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. I didn’t slow down. Maybe he would follow me all the way back to my front door so I could slam it in his face.
He outpaced me to step into my path. I considered knocking him on his boney ass. I had the weight and momentum to do it. A whiff of whatever cheap, man-scent product he used to attract girls assaulted my nose. It reminded me of dish soap and burnt popcorn.
“Please, would you just stop?” Josh said.
“Fine. What do you want?”
A car horn blared a few blocks away, followed by the squeal of tires. Josh glanced around like a super secret spy.
My response was an eye roll and crossed arms. If he didn’t want to be seen talking to me, then he shouldn’t have answered me. For that matter, he shouldn’t have come over.
Josh said, “I need you to do me a favor.”
The laugh that escaped me sounded more maniacal than I expected. “You’re high.”
Great. I wound up chasing a boy I hated down the street to do a favor for him. It was not the pinnacle of my existence. At least I hope not.
“No, I’m serious.” Josh leaned closer and dropped his voice. “I’ll pay you.”
“Then it’s not a favor. It’s a business proposition,” I said. “If you’re going to pay me for services—of the non-prostitutional variety—then it’s a business arrangement, not a favor. A favor I’d do for free.”
The hopeful look that passed his face prompted me to add, “For friends, not for you.”
“Okay, whatever.” Josh fished in a pocket of his too-baggy jeans and pulled out a folded bill. It was too dark for me to see which president. He smiled, his teeth a perfect picket fence of glaring white. “I want you to write a letter for me.”
My eyebrows lifted without my permission. “A letter? To who?” I didn’t ask why me. I was editor for the school paper and wrote for the quarterly lit magazine.
“I’m not telling you unless you agree to do it.”
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